An alliance of intelligence agencies from the US, the UK, Australia, Canada, and New Zealand along with signatories from India and Japan have written to technology companies which provide end-to-end encryption in their communication platforms to “work with the government” towards solutions which could help law enforcement agencies better pursue hardened criminals.
In a letter signed by the UK’s Secretary of State for the Home Department Priti Patel, Attorney General of the US William Barr, Australian Minister for Home Affairs Peter Dutton, and others including signatories from India and Japan, the countries said that while they supported encryption’s role in personal data and privacy protection, it also posed “significant challenges to public safety”.
“We urge industry to address our serious concerns where encryption is applied in a way that wholly precludes any legal access to content. We call on technology companies to work with governments to take the following steps, focused on reasonable, technically feasible solutions,” the letter dated October 11, read.
The move is likely to put pressure on communications platforms such as WhatsApp, its parent Facebook’s Messenger, and others such as Signal and Telegram, all of which offer end-to-end encryption to customers.
In nations such as India, WhatsApp has been involved in a prolonged legal debate with the government and the Supreme Court, where the platform has tried defending its stance that end-to-end encryption meant that not even the company had any access to the chats between users.
The Centre, last October, while presenting its standing in a case related to WhatsApp, had said that social media and communications platforms like WhatsApp and Facebook could not claim that they also did not have access to “users chats” if the matter related to national security.
The government had then told the Supreme Court that such platforms must help the Centre decrypt messages from terrorist organisation, hardened criminals and others. It had then also said that new rules to govern social media was being planned by the respective ministries. On the other hand, companies including Facebook, Twitter and others have repeatedly said they have always complied with countries’ law enforcement agencies when legitimate requests have been made through proper channels”.
In the October 11 letter, the signatories have said that these communication platforms should enable access for law enforcement agencies “in a readable and usable format where an authorisation is lawfully issued, is necessary and proportionate, and is subject to strong safeguards and oversight”.
“Integrating such a feature into the existing end-to-end encryption mechanism could be extremely complex considering these laws would vary between countries and regions. Also, ensuring that these hooks provided to security agencies are not misused can be quite complex,” said Kunal Kislay, co-founder and CEO of Integration Wizards Solutions.
Other experts, however, say that the proposal to decrypt will give the powers that be “excessive powers”. “This proposal is problematic because it gives excessive powers to the law enforcement agencies of these countries,” said Prasanth Sugathan, legal director at Software Freedom Law Centre.
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